Re-visiting Mesa Verde

We’d last been to Mesa Verde three years ago and had driven 80 miles from Monticello, Utah to do so.  We never had a chance to visit the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum which is 20 miles inside the park because when we got there the parking lot was full and they weren’t letting anyone in.  We still had a nice tour of the archaeological sites along the loop drives however, so it wasn’t a wasted visit.

This time we’re staying in Cortez, Colorado, about 10 miles from the entrance to Mesa Verde park and this time there was plenty of parking at the Museum.  Unfortunately, I’m also not sure it was worth the trip if all we were going to do was visit the Museum.  This is because the Museum had been built by the CCC in the 1930’s and handicap accessibility was not on their to-do list.  We were able to get into part of the Museum and see a film about Mesa Verde, but most of the exhibit halls could only be reached by stairs, and only one had a ramp leading to it, so Susan didn’t get to see very much, at least of the museum.

The museum however, was built right next to one of the major archaeological sites, Spruce Tree House, and there was a good view of it on the walkways outside the museum.

The central part of Spruce Tree House
Wider angle view of Spruce Tree House

The museum is close to the far end of Mesa Verde, and we’d already been on the loop drives, so we headed back towards the entrance of the park but that was only so we could take Wetherill Mesa drive.  Along the way we stopped at Cedar Tree Tower, which isn’t very intact, but does show that these structures were built in many different locations around Mesa Verde.

Cedar Tree Tower

A short distance down the road was the Far View Settlement, which consisted of two very large structures; Far View House and Pipe Shrine House.

Far View House

Pipe Shrine House

I chatted with one of the Park Rangers while we were there and he said that all of the structures on top of the Mesa were abandoned around 1200 AD when everybody moved to the cliff dwellings like Spruce Tree House, which in turn were abandoned by 1300 AD.  Mesa Verde is actually composed of several mesas, all separated by canyons.

One of the canyons between Chapin Mesa and Wetherill Mesa

When we took the road to Wetherill Mesa we passed several canyons, and actually the road itself was a roller-coaster ride up and down hills.  The canyons wouldn’t have made travel between the mesas impossible but they sure made it difficult so the communities on different mesa tended to be isolated from each other.

The Wetherill Mesa Road travels along the western edge of Mesa Verde.  When we had traveled to Four Corners a couple weeks ago, we had gone on a parallel route, but at the bottom of the Mesa, looking up.  This time we were on the top of the Mesa looking down and Ute Mountain was often visible.

Ute Mountain seen across the edge of Mesa Verde

And we also got another look at Ship Rock, although this time we were probably 35 miles away instead of just 25 miles, and it was just visible through the haze.


We had gone down the road to Wetherill Mesa because another set of cliff dwellings were there; Long House and Step House.  They turned out not to be handicap accessible in any way, however, so after a short stop there we turned around and headed for home.

All in all, we’re glad we went back.  We got to see a lot of Mesa Verde we didn’t get to see the first time around and it was a nice day for a drive.

Overall, we give Mesa Verde a B for handicap accessibility.  There are many pit toilets along the roads and they are all handicap accessible with handicap accessible parking.  There were many scenic views pullouts along the roads, most of which had handicap parking and paved paths of one kind or another.  Many of the archaeological sites are only accessible by stairs or ladders and without building an elevator I don’t see any easy way to get Susan’s wheelchair to many of them.  The Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum by itself gets a D, however, and that is because it was pretty handicap unfriendly.  Since it was built by the CCC it is a historical site itself at this point, which may limit what they can do with it.  There was a nice restaurant across the road from the Chapin Museum, Spruce Tree Terrace, that was handicap accessible and was where we got lunch.


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